When it comes to dining in restaurants, I'm as set in my ways as an elderly widow from Tabiona. After I find a menu item I love, I order it again and again.
At the Red Iguana, I alternate between the fabulous enmoladas and the enchiladas suizas (either goes well with Dos Equis). At Bombay House, I can never resist the richly complex spiciness of chicken tikka masala (particularly when accompanied by a Taj Mahal). My customary order at Thai Siam always includes the wonderful coconut soup (along with Singha). And, at Cucina Toscana, it's the simple yet perfect spaghetti carbonara (with whatever wine Valter Nassi ebulliently recommends).
I suppose my refusal to explore new food territory is a form of cowardice -- but I prefer to think of it as loyalty. Eating at an unfamiliar restaurant is complicated and confusing -- there are so many items on the menu, it's difficult to choose just the right one. So, once I've discovered my favorite, why should I risk disappointment by switching to an unknown entree?
One bright Sunday years ago, Dave and I were up Emigration Canyon enjoying brunch on the patio at Ruth's Diner. Now, my normal Sunday brunch order at Ruth's is the breakfast burrito. Ruth's breakfast burrito is much better than other breakfast burritos you might have encountered -- it's really very satisfying and, garnished with a hot pepper, it presents a perfect antidote to the Sunday-morning blues (particularly when accompanied by a nice, refreshing gin & tonic).
That day, however, I must have been feeling unusually adventurous. It was the first time I had ever seen Ruth's "Spicy Sausage & Lentil Soup" as a special du jour offer attached to the menu. I love sausage and I love lentils, and I love anything that comes with a "spicy" warning.
So I took a risk, ordered the soup -- and dog my cats if it didn't turn out to be the best damned soup I ever tasted!
For years afterward, I tried to replicate that soup in my own kitchen. Once or twice I got close, but I never managed to capture the full, savory experience of that first time at Ruth's Diner.
At one point, in a moment of desperation, I even e-mailed The Salt Lake Tribune's food writer Kathy Stephenson, begging her to try and get the recipe -- after which I immediately forgot all about it.
But, as it turns out, Stephenson did kindly respond to my request. She succeeded brilliantly, somehow charming the chef into revealing the secret formula -- how does she do that? -- and published the recipe more than two years ago.
Stupidly, I missed it, and might never have known, except recently I was Googling myself (yes, it's a bad habit, but I honestly had good reason -- research, not vanity!) when I came across Stephenson's June 9, 2009 column in the Trib archives.
Now I'm excited to try out the recipe for that delicious soup:
Ruth's Spicy Sausage and Lentil Soup
2 tablespoons margarine or butter
1/2 cup of diced onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
1/2 of one green pepper, diced
1/2 or one red pepper, diced
1/2 pound diced or ground Italian sausage
1/4 cup blackened seasoning
1 quart of chicken stock
2 cups lentils
1 (16 ounce) can of diced tomatoes in juice
1 bay leaf
In a large pot, melt butter or margarine, add onion, garlic, green peppers and red peppers and saute until just softened. Add sausage, cook until meat is browned. Add remaining ingredients, mixing to combine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until lentils are cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Servings: 6 to 8
Source: Chef Juan Rueda, Ruth's Diner
Many sincere thanks to Kathy Stephenson for unlocking the secrets of this gustatory treasure!
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